Coming up with twenty-one in Vegas is a nice hand; blackjack pays three-to-two. But having your bluff called in Indianapolis, and showing twenty-one to the NCAA, is another matter entirely.
Twenty-one: That’s what we have today, as the NCAA issued its Notice of Allegations to the Ole Miss football program. The final formal allegations set forth a jaw-dropping twenty-one Level-One violations, including the career- and program-killer: lack of institutional control.
The allegations at Ole Miss reveal a university and athletic department whose actions are brazen, comprehensive in their filth, sometimes hilarious, but even worse, rankly amateurish. If SMU’s cheating was the Michelangelo of corruption, then Ole Miss is at least the Monet: as colorful as it is derivative.
- ACT fraud
- Arranging free merchandise for family and friends of recruits
- Tons of Uncle Sugar from boosters: Car “rentals” and “loans”, hunting junkets, cash payments (including one memorable recruit who took $13,000 and didn’t even sign with the Rebels,) housing and accommodations, and another bevy of other impermissible benefits with cash value
- Payments and benefits by coaches to recruits’ handlers and families; coaches setting up players with boosters who would dole out the cash and goodies
- More improper contact than at a dollar-strip club in San Quentin.
- Complete lack of monitoring by Hugh Freeze over the actions of his assistants and those close to the program.
- Lying to NCAA investigators, and so many others.
A five-year investigation by the NCAA has now concluded, one that Hugh Feeze publicly welcomed, even goaded and taunted over. When it finally arrived, Freeze alluded to himself as a slandered Christ-like figure. Still, while denying the original 13 allegations, Ole Miss nevertheless imposed recruiting sanctions on itself last summer. After receiving the additional 8 today, ones of equal and far more seriousness, the Rebels have self-imposed a one-year bowl ban and forfeited almost $8 million dollars, its share of the revenue for the upcoming SEC Championship game.
Innocent parties don’t do that.
Oh, there is a hearing on the allegations to follow. And, to be sure, Ole Miss is contesting most of the more serious violations. And, in fairness, some allegations such as the ACT fraud, were committed under another regime. But, the ones that have stuck to Freeze show, if anything, his laissez faire corruption was an easy fit into an atmosphere of cheating that pervades Oxford.
The NCAA has already done its homework — Ole Miss will be trying to explain away paper trails and testimony. It turns out that, like a house fire, a little smoke under the door often hides a raging inferno behind it.
The recklessness, the hypocrisy, the arrogance of Ole Miss generally, and AD Ross Bjork and Hugh Freeze specifically, can’t help but bring to mind former Colorado Senator Gary Hart. Hart had gained a lot of political traction in the 1984 Democratic primaries, and was thought to be not only the front-runner for the 1988 Democratic nomination, but to eventually gain the presidency over the relatively weaker Republican nominee, Vice-President George H.W. Bush.
For years, rumors had surfaced that Hart was a womanizer, that he had a series of sordid relationship with various women. Stories and leaks and insinuations abounded such to the point that Hart had to suspend campaigning at one point. Then, on that fateful May 3, 1987, Senator Hart, denying cheating allegations to the NYT’s award-winning E.J. Dionne, said:
Those of you familiar with the story know what happened; those too young have at least read enough Greek tragedy or Shakespeare to know that issuing a breathtakingly-defiant statement like that merely sounds the hunting horn to the gods, who then inevitably punish such hubris.
Hart made that statement on a Friday; by Sunday, it was national knowledge that he had been sleeping with an aide in her DC apartment. Just a week later, Hart would have to suspend his campaign among allegations he had dated a woman while still married to, but separated from, his wife. By September, came worse news: The press had obtained photos of him in flagrante delicto with two women, including Donna Rice, aboard a pleasure boat called The Monkey Business.
Hart was done. He was a cheater. He was a liar. Yes, he was damned good at his job, but ultimately deemed unfit to lead. The job he sought demanded moral clarity, honesty, and discipline. Gary Hart failed all three tests, and in doing so failed to win the confidence of those whom he would lead. Neither he nor Donna Rice ever really recovered, and his names has become a synonym for wrongdoing coupled with arrogance.
As Yogi Berra said, “it’s like deja vu all over again.”
All that remains to be seen is how badly this monkey business costs the Ole Miss program and Hugh Freeze personally. I suspect, like Hart, Freeze will become a by-word for wasted talent and reckless dishonesty.